PAX East 2014: The Evil Within, a tale of two horrors
Having now seen The Evil Within on two separate occasion -- once at E3 and again this weekend at PAX East -- I can officially say I can't quite put my finger on what to make of it. In both instances, I was presented a hands-off demonstration of the game, but both previews provided two starkly different takes on the game. Led by the father of horror, Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), and developed by Tango Gameworks, The Evil Within touts itself as "the meaning of pure survival horror." It boasts "highly-crafted environments, horrifying anxiety, intricate story" and limited resources. Unfortunately, not all of that appears to be true following my previews this weekend.
The PAX East demonstration actually showed off two distinct areas of the game, both taking place at different times within the overall game. While the latter half of the demo showcased the horrifying anxiety promised to us, the first portion lacked any sense of horror. And at no time in either demo were we limited in resources.
The first part of the preview opened with Detective Sebastian Castellanos in an elevator that crashes into a ruined city. With no sort of introduction or explanation, the player roamed the desolate streets of the unnamed city. The first half of this part consisted of the player exploring this intriguing environment, complete with giant set pieces reacting to the twisted weather.
Continuing down the linear path formed by pillars rising out of the ground, Castellanos eventually found himself in a maze of chain-link fences. It was here, that we experienced the game's first enemies -- a group of zombie-like creatures, some armed with weapons that they would lazily fire at Castellanos. The player had little problem dealing with this group of enemies thanks mostly to the fact that Castellanos was armed with an abundance of weaponry ranging from a shotgun to a scoped hunting rifle. It felt a little contradicting that a game designed to scare the living crap out of you would give you an abundance of tools that remove any sense of dread, suspense, or difficult. At no point, did I feel the player was struggling to get past the area.
The second part of the preview at least delivered on the promise of a highly-crafted environment. In this scene, Castellano found himself in a dark basement filled with some sort of poisonous gas. And though a timer slowly ticked down to what I assume to be death, the true source of tension came from Boxman, the recently revealed creature who dons a bloodied apron and has a small steel safe wrapped in barbed wire in place of his head. Boxman certainly looks the part of a terrifying creature, but the gameplay removed any sort of fear.
Again, with an almost endless amount of ammunition, the player easily dealt with Boxman using an assortment of tactics, one of which included firing a bolt into Boxman's chest and freezing him in place. How scary can Boxman really be when he's stuck in one place?
The only thing Boxman had going for him was his ability to constantly respawn and chase the player, but that seemed like more of an annoyance than anything. Seriously, after easily dealing with him one or two times, it seemed kind of pointless to have him respawn a third and fourth. Eventually, the demo ended with player approaching a safe on the ground which popped up, latching on to Castellano's face. Castellanos manages to eventually pull the safe off and when it falls to the ground, out comes Boxman again.
Although The Evil Within certainly has an interesting premise, some of the gameplay designs do leave me worried. It's possible that the amount of weapons the player had at his disposal was specifically created for this demo in order to show us what we could eventually come across throughout the game. It certainly didn't help that there was absolutely no setup to the preview; we were just kind of thrown in to the preview with no sort of explanation as to what was happening.